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NAKED PICTURES OF FAMOUS PEOPLE
By Jon Stewart
Rob Weisbach Books
$24, 163 pp.
Before one critical word is written about comedian and television personality Jon Stewart's book Naked Pictures of Famous People, it must be noted that one of the stories in the book is entitled "Martha Stewart's Vagina." How do you feel about that? Does it offend you? Does it make you laugh? Should you even care?
Of course you should--your reaction to that one phrase is a pretty good indicator of how you will feel about the rest of the book.
That being said, it seems pointless to mention that the 163-page collection of totally fabricated celebrity dirt is perhaps a little too darkly funny for some of us. (Don't worry; it will be mentioned anyway.) Stewart's bizarre sense of humor--an almost schizophrenic mating of pseudo-highbrow Lampoon humor with seventh grade locker room jokes--brought him notoriety, though not much air time, on the short-lived "Jon Stewart Show" on MTV. In book form, however, his alternatingly grotesque and hysterical comedic style finds a happy home. These are not jokes that would work in a standup routine; but on paper, a 10-page story about a lazy cult leader who convinces his followers that a Captain Crunch cereal box will come to life and lead them to salvation becomes surprisingly funny.
Some of the pieces, granted, aren't as sharp as they could have been. But for the most part, Stewart grabs eclectic tidbits from today's headlines or society pages and sculpts them into tales so insanely far-fetched that you only wish they were real. One of the best in the entire collection, "Vincent and Theo on AOL," follows Van Gogh through a series of internet chat rooms:
RockUWORL: Who hates Hanson press 11
AMBer22: WHOS COOL
RockSOLID: DOES ANYONE HAVE A MOLE IN A COOL PLACE
VincentVG: There comes a moment when all hope is lost, fatally and irrevocably, in the new foal that is budding romance. For me, it was finding out that my fair princess's AOL member profile turned out to be false.
AssKIss33: i am
As mentioned earlier, the hilarity of each story depends on the reader. This particular one barely smiled at "Lenny Bruce: The Making of a Sitcom," and bristled more than a little when she read "Adolf Hitler: The Larry King Interview." However, some of the pieces--including "The Last Supper, or the Dead Waiter," which follows the arrogant complaints of a waiter who received a small tip at the Last Supper; and "The New Judaism," which expresses fears that "the Hare Krishnas will soon be kicking our ass" and wants to rename God "Uncle Pete"--prove that Stewart can proverbially blow political correctness right out of the water, and make a person laugh like hell the entire time.
What is so remarkable about Naked Pictures is that it represents a shift in the tide of recent comedian novels, and one that will hopefully continue in the future. Jerry Seinfeld's best-selling Seinlanguage was a hit, but at the price of novelty--the book exists as a mere collection of the opening and closing monologues of "Seinfeld." On the other end of the disappointment spectrum, Whoopie Goldberg's much-anticipated Book flopped in the reviews and sales departments alike. Regurgitation of material, regardless of how funny it was the first time everyone heard it, makes for a repetitious read and a disgruntled customer. Stewart's off-the-wall and out-of-his-mind stories, whether they make you giggle or glare, must be applauded for their uncontested originality. Yes, we've all thought that Bill Gates must have made some pact with the devil. But few of us have sat down and written it in old-style folklore form entitled "The Devil and William Gates," in which ol' Billy swindles Lucifer himself by reporting his credit card and car stolen, and changing the Devil's fingerprints to match those of a San Diego crack-addicted prostitute. (Well, it's funny in the book.)
Jon Stewart may not be anybody's idea of the first or last word in comedy today, but Naked Pictures of Famous People certainly gives out hope for the future of comedians-turned-writers. With brilliant fervor, nonstop wit and the decorum of the average skateboard fanatic, Stewart rips into the good, the bad and the better-left-unsaid. Not all of the stories come out as winners, but those that do are certainly worth discovering, and those that aren't should at least be given a chance. In addition to the Martha Stewart shenanigans, another particularly revealing section of the book is found in the final section, "Microsoft Word '98 Suggested Spelling and Usage," in which the words "Mr. Feelyhands," "Fuckface," "Cocksucker," "Chickenshit" and "Alan Dershowitz" all come up with "No Suggestions." Let your feelings on that be your guide to this book.
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